Saturday, March 1, 2008

9 Days with St. Dominic Savio: Death before Sin!

Dominic was 7 years old when he received his First Holy Communion in 1849. Dominic had pleaded with the priest to let him receive Our Lord.

Back then, Jansenism was the heresy of the day. Following along in the book, Dominic Savio - Teenage Saint by Fr. Peter Lappin, it explains:

"Jansenists taught that Catholics should receive Holy Communion only after long and serious prepration, at the most only once or twice a year, and then
with great fear and trembling. As for children Dominic's age - not by any means!"

Father John was not a Jansenist, but he did not like just yet to make an open stand against the current practice. When Dominic, therefore, at age of seven begged to be allowed to receive his First Holy Communion with that year's group, Father John hesitated.

"I'll have to think this over" he said. He decided to first consult Father Cugliero, an old classmate from seminary days.

"Look, Father," he told his friend, "when that boy was only five years old, if he found the church door closed early in the morning, he would kneel down right there and wait until it opened. The weather never worried him. He'd kneel down in the mud as soon as on dry ground. I tell you I found him outside the church one winter morning waiting to serve my Mass, and he was actually stiff with the cold!"

When Father heard the other's description of Dominic's conduct, he decided immediately: if the boy can distinguish between bread and the Eucharist, let him receive.


"what will all the other parents say?" This was the only objection several other priests could find against allowing Dominic to receive his First Holy Communion at such an early age. The two priests, therefore, boldly decided to violate the custom still in use of not permitting children to receive until they had reached the age of eleven or twelve. When Father John returned to Murialdo he told Dominic to go ahead and prepare to make his First Holy Communion.


As to what Dominic felt when he first received Holy Communion, we can only guess. He always referred to that day with delight. "I did not know," he declared, "whether I was in heaven or on earth!"

For the occasion, he made four resolutions:

  1. I wil go to confession very often and to Communion as often as my Confessor will allow.
  2. I will keep the feast days holy.
  3. Jesus and Mary shall be my friends.
  4. Death before sin!


This resolution, "Death before sin," places him side by side with the little saint of our own time, St. Maria Goretti, the martyr for purity. Their similarity lies in the firm intention both had of giving their lives before they would offend God by committing sin. Maria Goretti, however, was offered the opportunity to lay down her life to prove her intention. Dominic was not. Apparently God did not want a schoolboy martyr as a model. The death offered to Dominic was the death of his flesh, a slow martyrdom of mortification and penance that he accepted with a characteristic little smil on his lips - a martyrdom that was later illustrated in a vision Don Bosco had of Dominic shortly after the boy's death.

I couldn't help thinking about how Jesus wanted us to be like children. As we progress through additional stories from the life of St. Dominic Savio, you will get a better picture of authentic, God-pleasinhg purity. It does indeed project a child-like innocence with regards to purity.

The Novena prayer to St. Dominic is the same each day. It can be found in Day 1 of our "9 Days with St. Dominic" series.

Post 1: The pint-sized boy and the Missal

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